On an international level and as a matter of UK constitutional law, Wales is part of the United Kingdom. On a domestic level, Wales is part of the legal jurisdiction of England and Wales, and therefore the constitutional structure, the structure of the courts and the law-making process for legislation made by the Westminster Parliament in relation to Wales are as described in relation to England and Wales in the material on United Kingdom law. However, there are significant and emergent differences to which attention must be drawn.
Another area where Wales diverges from England relates to the law relating to language. Section 22 of the Welsh Language Act 1993 permits the Welsh Language to be spoken by any party, witness or other person who desires to speak it. Furthermore, section 111(5) the Government of Wales Act 200629 provides that the National Assembly must enact all its legislation bilingually, with equal standing being given to both versions of the text.
Wales has its own government, making policies and laws for Wales. The Welsh Government is responsible for areas such as health, education, language and culture and public services.
The Welsh Government is separate from the British Government, which retains responsibility for UK-wide areas such as tax, defence, foreign policy and benefits. Wales' voice in the UK Government is represented by the Secretary of State for Wales in the Wales Office.
The National Assembly for Wales is the democratically elected body that represents the interests of Wales and its people, makes laws for Wales and holds the Welsh Government to account.
Law Wales provides information about Wales' constitutional arrangements, including devolution, and about how law made for Wales.
Until the 16th century, some indigenous laws did exist, however, they did not apply to the whole of Wales. The Laws in Wales Acts of 1535 and 1542 provided that Wales would thereafter be governed by the law of England.
The Government of Wales Act 1998 transferred certain functions of the Secretaries of State to the National Assembly for Wales. Although the National Assembly for Wales could only pass secondary legislation, it also had the power to initiate Wales only bills for consideration by the United Kingdom Parliament. Examples include the Children’s Commissioner for Wales Act and the Health (Wales) Act 2003.
In 2006, the Government of Wales Act 2006 devised two schemes for Wales to make primary legislation. The first of these was under Part III of the Act, and permitted the National Assembly for Wales to pass primary legislation known as Measures subject either to the subject matter of the measure being within the competence of the National Assembly for Wales. Although the procedure under part 3 was cumbersome, a number of Measures were passed by the National Assembly for Wales between 2007 and 2011.
In 2011, pursuant to a referendum, Part IV of the Government of Wales Act 2006 was brought into force. Part IV allows the National Assembly for Wales to pass primary legislation on 20 areas within its legislative competence as are detailed in Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006.
The Government of Wales Act 2006 also changed the structure of the legislature and the Government. Therefore, whereas the scheme devised by the Government of Wales Act 1998 did not create a separate legislature and executive, the 2006 Act creates a separate executive body known as the Welsh Government.
Wales is included in the jurisdiction of the English courts. For more information on this court system, see the Case Law tab in this guide.
Historically, a separate courts system existed in Wales from 1730 until 1830. The Court of Great Sessions in Wales could try all types of crimes, from petty thefts to high treason. In practice, most of the petty crimes were heard at the Courts of Quarter Sessions.